Photographer: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Deadly Microbes Got 2,000 Americans Fired This Year

Listeria, salmonella, and bird flu are now killing jobs, too.

American workers have an invisible, job-killing enemy: Microbes in the food supply have caused nearly 2,000 layoffs so far in 2015.

It's the first time that the regular tally of layoff announcements by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has blamed significant losses on food-production shutdowns caused by outbreaks of bird flu and listeria. The 1,937 microbe-related layoffs this year almost matched the number of lost jobs companies attributed to increased competition and exceeded the lost jobs blamed on government regulation.  

Reasons companies cited in layoff announcements.

The microbial layoffs have even grabbed headlines. Last month, for instance, Chicago poultry processor Aspen Foods laid off 65 workers after recalling 2.5 million pounds of chicken because of salmonella risks. Plant shutdowns at Blue Bell Creameries accounted for the bulk of this year's microbe-related cuts. The Texas ice cream maker recalled all its products because of a listeria outbreak that authorities linked to three deaths. Avian flu outbreaks that ravaged midwest poultry farms have also contributed to the tally.

Foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million Americans each year, according to Centers for Disease Control estimates. Between 2010 and 2014, large, multistate outbreaks of such microbes as salmonella or E. coli were just 3 percent of the outbreaks recorded but accounted for more than half of the 118 associated deaths, the agency reported this week. The average number of multistate outbreaks detected each year has tripled since the 1990s.

Microbes in the food supply haven't affected nearly as many workers as cheap oil, which was blamed for nearly one-fifth of announced job cuts in the report. Bankruptcy and the hot pace of merger activity remain far greater scourges for employees. Still, for food industry workers, at least, the rising number of outbreaks and recalls is a growing risk.

—With Alex Tanzi 

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